Fire continues to burn at Owaka Pit

Wednesday April 10, 2013

The New Zealand Fire Service, Environment Canterbury and the Medical Officer of Health are working together to manage the fire at the Owaka Holdings site in Wigram that has been burning since last week.
Environment Canterbury Compliance and Enforcement Manager Brett Aldridge says it appears spontaneous combustion caused the fire in a 3000 cubic metre pile of old kitchen cabinetry, which had been stored on the site for a number of years.
“The property owner is controlling the fire under the advice of the NZ Fire Service at this stage it is agreed that the best way forward is to keep the pile wetted down to suppress the smoke as much as possible and allow the fire to get to a point where it will collapse in on itself. The Fire Service can then access the base of the fire to extinguish it,” Mr Aldridge says.
“We are aware that smoke from the fire is causing distress to residents, and we are actively monitoring the fire around the clock and keeping it dampened down with sprinklers. Unfortunately the colder mornings being experienced at the moment seem to be keeping the smoke plume close to the ground in the early hours of the morning which is causing problems for residents and neighbouring businesses.’’
Mr Aldridge says the most important issue with situations such as these is that people’s lives are not put at risk.
“All agencies involved are confident that the situation is being managed as safely as possible, but accept that local residents could be faced with several weeks of unpleasant odours from time to time. The authorities are all very aware of the issues that are being faced by residents and are doing the best they can to mitigate these effects.’’
Steve Kennedy, New Zealand Fire Service assistant area commander, says the fire is not threatening people’s safety or property.
“As it is very deep seated, it is best contained, rather than extinguished, which would be a difficult and dangerous process,” Mr Kennedy says. “We are confident that Owaka Holdings is containing the spread of the fire and we are providing them with advice and some assistance. We have also advised them not to put their workers at risk by attempting to extinguish the fire.
Unfortunately, it could be several weeks before the fire burns itself out.” 
Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health says while the smoke is a nuisance it is not considered a health risk.
"Burning MDF can release products such as formaldehyde, which are particularly pungent. Formaldehyde can produce an odour at very low concentrations, which may cause anxiety and may even be distressing for people near the fire,” he says.
“However, while potentially irritating, the concentration produced in smoke is not harmful.  If people find the odour irritating, they should close their windows and stay indoors until the smoke passes."
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Page last reviewed: 09 July 2013